U.K. Poised to Legalize Digital File Copying at Long Last

Britons can't copy music or DVDs to their MP3 players and computers

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When we came across the Reuters report this afternoon that the U.K. is poised to legalize copying CDs or DVDs onto MP3 players or computers for personal use, we were surprised not by the news but rather by the fact that privately transferring digital material from one device to another--known as "ripping," "burning," or "format shifting"--is still illegal in Britain. After all, it's legal in the U.S., provided the original CD or DVD is legitimately purchased and you don't give away the copies you make to others. In fact, Reuters tells us the practice is legal in all European countries except Britain, Ireland, and Malta.

Britain, it turns out, has been relying for way too long on 300-year-old copyright laws, which are hindering innovation and economic growth. Or at least that's the conclusion Professor Ian Hargreaves arrived at while conducting a review of Britain's intellectual property framework this past spring. "The copyright regime cannot be considered fit for the digital age when millions of citizens are in daily breach of copyright, simply for shifting a piece of music or video from one device to another," Hargreaves wrote in his report, recommending that the law be overturned. Business Secretary Vince Cable is expected to adopt this and other Hargreaves recommendations--including introducing an exception to copyright for parody--on Wednesday. Hargreaves claims his proposals, if implemented, could add nearly $13 billion to the U.K.'s economy. In a week when the International Monetary Fund raised concerns about the U.K.'s weak economic growth, those projections may look particularly attractive.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.